Five Great Films Directed by Actors

If you’re a top actor, then it’s likely that you’ve worked under a top director. Someone to learn from before making the big step from in front of the camera, to behind it. As Tommy Lee Jones takes the helm of neo-Western, ‘The Homesman’, there’s reason to explore how other established actors have fared as directors. This may be Jones’ second film as director, but he can still be deemed a novice in that side of cinema, ramping up the intrigue. There’s always the fear of stars getting too big for their boots and slumping under their own expectations, but, history shows that great success can come from top actors making the switch. We’ve chosen five great examples for you to explore, tweet us if we missed anything!

Unforgiven (1992)- Dir. Clint Eastwood

After working under the Orson Welles of Westerns, Sergio Leone, Eastwood’s comfort with the genre translated flawlessly with his directing work. His patchy but encouraging debut Western, Play Misty for Me (1971), triggered a slew of respectable others including High Plains Drifter (1973), Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Pale Rider (1985). This graft culminated into Unforgiven – an extraordinary genre piece that scooped Eastwood his first directing Oscar. Starring alongside Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, he plays a retired gunslinger who embarks on one last job. A role that reminded the world why Westerns should be treated as more than just cult cinema.

2) A Beautiful Mind (2001) – Dir. Ron Howard

People often forget that Ron Howard started out as a TV actor. After appearing in such classic shows as The Happy Days, he went from beloved teen actor to respected director, an unusual career map. With such gems as space action, Apollo 13 and, more recently, Rush, under his belt, choosing his best film is no easy task. However, for us, drama A Beautiful Mind just edges it. Based on the true story of mathematical genius and schizophrenic, John Nash (played by Russell Crowe), Howard’s treatment is both tragic and inspiring. His evocation of the mental illness on screen was terrifying, and a testament to Howard’s skill and creativity.

3) One-Eyed Jacks (1961) – Dir. Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando – possibly the greatest actor of all time – also dabbled in direction, albeit a little fractiously. According to modern trivia, Brando’s inexperience behind the camera, and tendency to overshoot and under-decide, became such a problem for Paramount that they eventually took the film off him and recut it! Nevertheless, Brando’s final Western product is surprisingly excellent. He plays a bank robber who’s betrayed by his partner and thrown in prison. When he gets out, he’s out for revenge. Standing at 2 hours and 20 minutes, some fat could’ve been trimmed, but for Brando’s solitary directorial effort, it’s a great achievement.

4) Dead Man Walking (1995) – Dir. Tim Robbins

One year after Tim Robbins gripped the world as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, he directed the heart-wrenching prison drama, Dead Man Walking. Sean Penn plays a convicted murderer in death row counselled by a nun (Susan Sarandon). As the nun sympathisers with both the killer and the victim’s family, there’s an interesting moral discussion about the ethics of Capital Punishment. With spectacular performances from two actors at the peak of their powers, Robbins crafted an intensely moving drama.

5) Argo (2012) – Dir. Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck’s jump from empty-headed action star to Oscar winning writer and director is a unique one. He showed glimmers of his talent when he won an Oscar for the Good Will Hunting (1997) script with Matt Damon. After winning the plaudits as a director with Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010), his talents came to fruition with suspense drama Argo. He plays a CIA agent who fronts as a film producer who’s location scouting, to save six American hostages in Tehran. Affleck shines behind-the-camera, conjuring nerve shredding sequences of tension, showing s mastery of classic suspense film making. He was okay in the starring role, but Affleck showcased a real flair and auteur’s touch that we hope to see more of in the future.

Want to see how Tommy Lee Jones has done in The Homesman? Check out film times here


One thought on “Five Great Films Directed by Actors

  1. How about a companion piece: 5 great films directed by an actress: 1. Big (Penny Marshall); 2. Away From Her (Sarah Polley); 3. Faithless (Liv Ullmann); 4. Vinyl (Sara Sugarman); 5. Searching for Debra Winger (Rosanna Arquette).

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